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Russia’s Potemkin Olympic Village

MOSCOW – Remember the year 2007? Russia was starting to look like a world power again. Its economy was growing at a record 8.5% annual rate. Political life had stabilized. Support for President Vladimir Putin was stratospheric. The decade-long Chechen rebellion seemed to have been suppressed. And, to top it off, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2014 Winter Games to Russia’s Black Sea resort, Sochi.

In many respects, it was a strange choice of venue: sunny Sochi has beautiful mountains but little or no snow. It is also 850 miles south of Moscow, with few direct flights from Europe, while the trip from the United States can involve up to four legs.